Hot line is set up for children's health insurance; Many parents don't know of low-cost, free coverage


WASHINGTON -- Alarmed at an increase in the number of people without health insurance, President Clinton will announce today that he is establishing a national toll-free telephone number to enroll children in Medicaid and in a separate new health program for people under the age of 19.

The phone number is 877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669). Callers will be automatically connected to the Medicaid agency or the health department of the state they are calling from. They may obtain free or low-cost health insurance for children. Many states allow families to apply by mail.

State officials said they have been hiring people to answer calls.

In August 1997, Congress created the Children's Health Insurance Program, and in December 1997, Clinton ordered a major effort to locate and sign up millions of children who were eligible for Medicaid. But the erosion of health insurance coverage has continued, as poor families, the Clinton administration and state officials have not fully exploited the potential of the two programs.

Today, the president and leaders of the National Governors' Association will announce steps to reverse that trend.

The Census Bureau says that at least 10.7 million children have no health insurance. The White House says that half of them are eligible for Medicaid or the new insurance program, but have not enrolled in either program and are uninsured.

The White House has enlisted many businesses and broadcasters in a campaign to increase enrollment.

Kmart will put the toll-free telephone number on its shopping bags, diaper boxes and pharmaceutical products. General Motors will put labels with the number on child safety seats. NBC, ABC, Black Entertainment Television and Univision, the Spanish-language network, will run television and radio advertisements publicizing the number. And the government will run radio spots in 45 states.

Changes in federal welfare policy, including a landmark law that Clinton signed in August 1996, have increased the number of poor people without health insurance, experts on health policy say.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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